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Athens 2004 - Overview

Phelps chases Spitz

Michael Phelps came to Athens with the bold dream of equalling the incredible record of seven swimming golds won by Mark Spitz in 1972 at Munich, and while Phelps narrowly missed out, the affable American did carve his own niche in Olympic history with six golds and two bronze.

Phelps was just 19, and while he missed out on a $1 million bonus offered by a sponsor in the event he pulled off the feat, he will be back for at least one or two more bites of the cherry.

Purists would mention that one of Phelps' medals was awarded for the 4x100-meter medley, in which he competed in the semifinal but not the final, but the sport's governing bodies, the IOC and FINA, stipulate all competitors on a team receive the medal.

But aside from the hair splitting, what Phelps achieved in the Athens pools will be remembered as one of the Olympic Games' greatest exploits.

Sporting attitude

Phelps gladly gave up his place in the medley final, explaining that he felt Ian Crocker was the better relay man because of his superior start.

And with four individual titles to his name, Phelps joined fellow swimmers Spitz, Hungary's Tamas Darnyi, Germany's Roland Matthes and Russia's Alexander Popov, although only Spitz and Phelps managed the feat at a single Games.

He also became only the second athlete to claim eight medals at a single Games, joining Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin, who did so in 1980.

"I wanted to achieve something nobody else had ever done in the pool," Phelps said. Mission accomplished.

In addition, the competition was much stiffer than it was in Spitz's day. Phelps' 100 freestyle relay team managed only bronze, while Spitz's took gold.

Phelps also raced 17 times in seven days, while Spitz raced "only" 13 times.

Finally, Phelps dominated the butterfly and medley but had the massive task of facing up to swimming superstars Ian Thorpe of Australia and Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands in the 200 freestyle, not his speciality, in which he came in third.

Comparisons aside, the poolside fans at Beijing 2008 or even London 2012 could well see the American carve out further historic tallies as his backstroke and breaststroke since have been sharpened.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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